Tag Archive: vision

Conducting Potential

Have you ever looked at people through the glass of their potential?  As leaders we have the opportunity to come alongside of people, hold up the mirror and say, “Look at what you’re capable of.”  Think about it, not many things are as exciting as finding out what could be.  A boyscout tying his first square knot eying a pioneering project, or a team in a huddle realizing they could win the game.  The joy of getting the kid with the good arm on your team in dodge ball!  Gym class aside, people can’t accomplish something if they don’t believe they can, and it is amazing what people can do when they start believing in themselves.

Benjamin Zander, Conductor BPO

As a leader it is your job to unlock the potential of your followers.  The wildly successful conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander, said that after 20 years of conducting, he had an epiphany that changed his life.  He said, “I realized that conductors do not make a sound.”  What Zander meant was that a conductor is incapable of performing anything by themselves, it is in fact the musicians who produce the music.  This revelation puts a would-be leader in a predicament!  Most leaders love to accomplish things on their own, and are very capable and not in need of help from someone else.  Although Zander is an accomplished pianist and musician himself, his performance pales in comparison to what the full Philharmonic can produce.  (I shudder to think what his singing would be like.)  I think this is true of most leaders, they are capable of great things on their own, but if they can unlock the potential of others they can achieve truly great things.  “Real power is in making others powerful.” ~ Benjamin Zander
For more of Zander check out this great TED talk about music and passion.

So how do you unlock someone’s potential?  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Spend time with people and learn to care about them.  We have a shortage of people who really care.  You have to know people to know their potential, and that takes time.
  2. Be encouraging, raise their vision.  The more someone’s vision is raised, the more potential is unlocked.  Find me a person with a change-the-world vision, and they will most likely be using a lot of their potential, especially if they are successful.
  3. Believe in people before they believe in you.  Often times leadership is a one way street.  People don’t catch the vision, don’t care or see why any of this is important.  Be patient, earn respect and believe in people.  They’ll come around.
  4. Give people opportunities to find their potential.  I’m amazed at how many leaders believe that they are the only ones capable of accomplishing a task.  Be able to delegate responsibilities away so that hidden potentials can be found.  Maybe that student would make a great graphic designer, or engineer, or both…who’ll know till they try?  Also, try new things!
  5. Become a master teacher.  So you’ve found someone with potential, now what?  The qualities of a great teacher go hand in hand with the qualities of a great leader.  If you are able to pick up on someone’s hidden potential and then teach them to use it, be ready for an exciting ride!

Do you have a success story about how you helped someone reach thier potential?  Share it in the comments below!

“Leadership is a choice to deal with people in a way that will communicate to them their worth and potential so clearly they will come to see it in themselves.” ~ Stephen Covey


Title: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Author: Stephen R. Covey, Wikipedia Bio
Topic: Personal Leadership
ISBN-10: 9780671708634
Purchase: Half.com ($2.88), Amazon.com ($5.30)
My Rating: ★★★★★


“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

I chose to read 7 Habits because of all the positive reviews it received.  It is a modern classic and I was curious to see what all of the hype was about.  I began reading with the expectation that the book would be excellent.  In my mind, I placed it alongside such works as Jim Collins’ Good to Great, Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager, or John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  I believe it surpassed my expectations!  Below is a quick summary of each of the habits and some of my thoughts:

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 1 is about taking initiative and responsibility.  It’s about living out preventive maintenance and solving problems before they become problems.  In my own experience being able to be proactive and know what someone needs before they do is an invaluable skill and earns a lot of points!  As an engineer or designer, being able to predict problems in the design stage can save millions of dollars in redesign and recalls.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
In your own life, where are you going?  If you are the leader of an organization, where are you taking your followers; what is the vision?  Covey also touches on the difference between leadership and management.  The manager asks, how fast can we cut down this forest?  The leader asks, is this the right forest?   Last he talks about what is at the center of our lives.  Covey writes, “Whatever is at the center of our life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom, and power.”  Have the right thing at the center.

Habit 3: Put First Things First
Goethe says, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”  Covey makes a convicting distinction between what is urgent and what is important.  A telephone ringing is urgent, but the person sitting in your office is much more important.  Covey argues that we spend too much time on things that are urgent but not important.  Do we know what is important in our lives?  What would we miss if it was suddenly gone or, what would we regret not doing if our chance has passed?

Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Covey talks about stubbornly seeking to find solutions that are wins for both parties (like Scott Lang).  This solution is often difficult to see at first and requires cooperation from both sides to find.  I envision it as two people writing the problem on a white board and looking at it together instead of arguing with each other across a table. (great complementary book which expands on these principles titled, Difficult Conversations)

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
For me this was one of the most easily applied chapters.  It is easy to tell if you are trying to impose understanding on someone else before you have understood them.  This chapter talks about our own stories which we fit all of our experiences into.  Many times other people and their stories do not fit!  I have told many of my friends that his habit is a game changer.  Cliche jargon aside, I do believe that this can have an immediate impact on your relationships.  If you can set your story aside, especially if angry, and seek first to see where the other person is coming from, you’d be amazed at the results.  Update: I have written a blog post dedicated to this chapter here: Listening From a Learning Perspective

Habit 6: Synergize
Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  A team’s capability is greater than the capabilities of each team member separately.  I have studied synergy before but this chapter is one of the most profound resources on the topic I have found so far.  When combined with Win/Win it’s an unstoppable combination.  Covey also makes an interesting point about valuing the differences between people.  Covey writes, “The person who is truly effective has the humility and reverence to recognize his own perceptual limitations and to appreciate the rich resources available through interaction with the hearts and minds of other human beings.  That person values the differences because those differences adds to their knowledge, to their understanding of reality.”

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Sharpen the saw is about taking a break once in a while and refueling the tank.  I believe humans were designed to operate like this.  That is why God gave us a sabbath.  Covey encourages taking time to reflect and internalize the happenings of your day/week. 


Don’t get trapped into thinking that because 7 Habits is popular it isn’t good (that’s Twilight).  It’s popular because it contains things worth knowing.

It is just another “self-help” book and should be avoided.  This is an assumed constraint.  I challenge you to try it yourself and then judge if it’s advice is “useless self-help nonsense.”  Also we all need help, sometimes we’re the only ones who can help ourselves!

The book is not worthy of your time because the ideas are common sense.  Covey makes this point throughout the book; the ideas contained in 7 Habits are principles which weave themselves throughout all of history.  Many of them are common sense, but just because they are simple ideas does not mean they are easily practiced.  It will take anyone many years to become proficient at these habits, we can use all the reminders we can get.

Because you’ve read this review (or any) you understand the principles of 7 Habits!  The book was very dense and I had to resist the urge to write down every sentence.  If you’re interested read the whole book not just spark notes!

For a second opinion on 7 Habits check out the highest rated reader review on Amazon.com.

What’s in a name?

When we decided to start a blogging project, one of the first questions that we faced was what we would call the blog.  It had to be deep, thought provoking, scalable, and original – quite a bit to ask for from a name!  After brainstorming up a bunch of ideas, a verse from Matthew was suggested: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  One of us had heard a sermon that taught the idea that this verse described God’s reversal – that those who the world deems to be first will be last in the kingdom, their place reversed.

The Reversal is a call to humble living.  It is a daring commitment.  To think of others first and yourself second.  To lead from the back of the parade and out of the spotlight.  It goes against the grain and common sense.  It’s not natural; if it was, a reversal wouldn’t be necessary.  We think it’s time to join this Reversal and we want others to join with us.

In our first meeting we shared what we thought we would gain from writing this blog.  The list was huge.  Amazingly, we discovered another reversal – a blog to help others in turn helps us.  A great quote goes like this: “The best way to get what you want out of life is to help other people get what they want.”  We believe the world is ready for these ideas; that we are a product of people who came before us and shared their understanding.  We’re going to thank them by spreading that understanding.

So what should you expect from The Reversal? For now we’ll post three times per week, once per author. Each post will be a brief, down-to-earth discussion of a theme in Christianity and/or leadership. Eventually we would like to add more authors and to continually grow our reader base. We hope that by sharing what we are learning, we can spread the idea of God’s Reversal in our lives and the lives of others.

So what’s in a name?  A lot after all.